Tag: Morse

25 Sep

Capacity Litigation: A Clarification on Costs

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A September 8, 2009 endorsement of Justice D.M. Brown helps to clarify the costs of capacity litigation.

 Fiacco v. Lombardi, 2009 CanLII 46170 (ON S.C.) involves four siblings who disputed the management of their mother’s property. She executed a continuing power of attorney for property appointing all four of her children as her attorneys to act jointly. That didn’t go so well.

The mother suffers from dementia. In 2008, the four children entered into contested guardianship litigation over their mother; two were appointed guardians by on January 23, 2009 by Order of Cameron J. That round of litigation cost the mother $30,022.22.

The two children who were not appointed were ordered to provide information about their mother’s assets and the original will of their mother to the guardians, and to transfer assets to the guardians. They did not act quickly.

Justice Brown states, at paragraph 14, that “The view…that the Order did not require compliance forthwith was dead wrong: when a court appoints guardians of the property of an incapable person, any other person with notice of the order is required to deliver up immediately to the guardians all property of the incapable person that he or she might possess.”

At paragraph 10, His Honour states that the “respondents acted contrary to their obligations under the SDA [Substitute Decisions Act] and they obstructed their mother’s guardians in discharging their statutory duties.”

The SDA at sections 33.1 requires guardians to make reasonable efforts to determine if an incapable person has a will; and sections 33.2(1) and (2) require a person who has the incapable person’s will to deliver it to the guardian “when required by the guardian.”

The Court did not approve of the children seeking further funds ($29,154.14) from their mother’s estate to “fund their continuing sibling rivalry.”

Justice Brown emphasized that “capacity litigation should reflect the basic purpose of the SDA – to protect the property of a person found to be incapable and to ensure that such property is managed wisely so that it provides a stream of income to support the needs of the incapable person: SDA, sections 32(1) and 37.”

His Honour states that members of the Bar should not presume that all parties to contested capacity litigation will have their costs paid by the estate of the incapable person.

This endorsement emphasizes that family fights cost everyone involved. 

Enjoy the weekend. 


Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.

23 Sep

Future Changes to U.S. Estate Tax?

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Yesterday I wrote about Edward Kennedy – I began to wonder about the tax implications on his estate.

Assuming he held $75 million in assets, his estate would have been taxed at a rate of 45% and the bill owing would be $33,750,000. But this is unlikely because much of his wealth was held by trusts which, in Ontario, are separate taxable entities. 

My colleague, Sarah Fitzpatrick wrote in July 2008 about the upcoming changes to the U.S. tax law.  That time is four months away. Congress must act soon; if it does not, taxes on nearly everyone will soar under a plan enacted in 2001 called the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) which provides that in 2011 the tax law that had been in effect in 2000 will reappear.

The estate tax is set to vanish for a year if nothing happens before the end of 2009 as the EGTRRA sunsets in 2010. In 2011, an effective rate of 55% on estates would come into effect.

Only a small number of individuals pay the estate tax each year. In 2007, there were 36,458 estate tax filers – out of 235 million total tax filers that same year in the United States.  . Smaller estates (under $3.5 million) make up the bulk of filers – over 60 percent in years 2002-2007. Large estates (over $10 million), however contributed between 18 and 30 percent of the total revenue in the same time frame.

During the 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama supported permanent extension of the 2009 law – effectively a permanent 45 percent top rate with $3.5 million exemption per individual ($7 million for couples).

Either side of the political spectrum will present different numbers, but what seems certain is that if there is no legislative action in the U.S. in the next few months, 2010 will be a good year for estates. My bet is that the large loophole will be filled quickly, especially as the U.S. operates with a large deficit.

Thank you for reading. Please remember that Hull & Hull is hosting another breakfast seminar tomorrow morning.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.

22 Sep

Nurturing Legacies: Edward M. Kennedy

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The death of Edward M. Kennedy on August 25, 2009 marked the end of era. The Lion of the Senate received much praise for his 47-year contribution to American politics.

In his memoir – True Compass –  “Teddy” provides a posthumous review of his life and of his famous family.  It is a reminder that people leave a range of legacies when they die. Several of his siblings left their own mark, including his sister Eunice.  Edward Kennedy’s political accomplishments are a great part of his legacy. (I have read about JFK and Bobby and will enjoy this read.)

There is the financial side of Edward Kennedy’s life (and of each Kennedy) which presumably continues to back many of the endeavours of the current generation. Edward Kennedy, apparently, reported a net worth  in 2008 between $15 million and $72.6 million, but a year earlier the range was between $46.9 and $157 million. As a U.S. senator, Kennedy earned a base salary of $165,200 a year.

The main source of Kennedy’s wealth was his father and family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, a former U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, whose fortune stemmed from banking, real estate, liquor, films and Wall Street holdings that eventually grew to an estimated $500 million by the 1980s.

A big portion of that wealth came from Kennedy Sr.’s purchase of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart  in 1945 for $12.5 million. Spanning two city blocks and rising 25 stories, the sprawling limestone and terra-cotta mart had its own zip code. It was the world’s largest building until the Pentagon was built in the 1940s. The Kennedy family sold its interest in the Merchandise Mart in 1998 for $450 million in cash and a $100 million interest in the purchasing trust. The holdings of Edward Kennedy included a string of publicly and non-publicly traded trusts and assets.

The Kennedy family contributed a great deal to public service. Liberal projects and public service work by the family is supported in part, I expect, by the resources available to them through family investments.

While we did not know the patriarch of the Kennedy family, we can glimpse the satisfaction he likely felt that his investments – in his family and businesses – contributed to the greater good.

The scale may be far different, but within our own families, each of us can support the work and the dreams of the next generation with careful planning and wise investments of our time, energy and financial resources.

Thank you for reading.

Jonathan Morse

Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.

21 Sep

On the Big Screen: Challenging Dr. Barnes’ Wishes

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The Toronto International Film Festival brought stars to town and brought an estate issue into focus. The Art of the Steal  received accolades as a “thrilling whodunit” about the world-renowned Barnes art collection, valued in the “billions and billions.” Dr. Albert Barnes assembled art in the twenties and housed it in the suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania.

On his death in 1951, Dr. Barnes’ will gave control of the collection to the trustees of Lincoln University, the first black university in the United States. However, according to the film’s producer, in the nineties, a scheme was hatched to permanently remove the collection from Merion that some would later call the heist of the century.

The trustees’ decision to move the exhibit to downtown Philadelphia was met with legal challenges that did not succeed.  On a site called The Barnes Letters  it seems interest groups used the courts to deviate from Dr. Barnes’ express wishes to focus on “an educational organization designed to promulgate a unique way of teaching art appreciation.”

At an opening ceremony for the new site, protestors marked the occasion with signs advocating that Barnes’ “…Will Should Be Honoured.”

Art disputes relating to trusts and foundations are not uncommon. Here in Canada, one example involves a long-standing legal dispute between the U.K. Beaverbrook Foundation which claims that it only loaned art to a New Brunswick gallery – art that originally belonged to New Brunswick newspaper baron Max Aitken.  (See Paul Trudelle’s September 14, 2009 blog).

These examples point to the idea that a testator’s expressed wishes for certain assets may not always be respected. Dr. Barnes wanted his art to stay put, while it was alleged that Lord Beaverbrook’s art was gifted to the people of New Brunswick.

Have a good Monday.

Jonathan Morse

Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.

28 Jun

The Death of a Legend: Michael Jackson leaves loose ends

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Many people, including myself, paused on learning of Michael Jackson’s death.   While I have not searched out his music for several years, his death marks the end of an era. 

Michael Jackson’s music is part of my memory of growing up. I attended his concert in October 1984 at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.

Of course, in my role as an estate litigator, other thoughts also come to mind. Namely, what issues will arise in untangling Michael Jackson’s estate?

Some of these issues are addressed in a New York Times article. One executive describes the singer’s estate as a "mess".  There are clearly valuable assets, including a 50 percent share of Sony/ATV Music Publishing which owns the rights to more than 200 Beatles songs; this asset alone may be worth more than $500 million.  Apparently these shares were not owned directly by the pop star, but rather by a trust controlled by his mother.  The shares therefore may not fall to Michael Jackson’s  estate but they would be part of his legacy.

The estate has debts too: Neverland cost many millions of dollars to operate annually and in recent years there was a $24.5 million debt against the property. Some commentators estimate Michael Jackson’s overall debt to be $400 million. 

All of these issues – from copyright and real estate assets to Michael Jackson’s personal and business loans – will take many months, if not years, to sort out.   

There were recent plans for a 50-concert comeback in London, England. Apparently fans had paid $90 million which will have to reimbursed and the concert preparations included payments for renovations to the venue as well as advance payments to Michael Jackson. 

As the administration of Michael Jackson’s estate unfolds, I suspect there may be more related topics to be covered in our blog.

Of course, for us regular folks, estate issues that we encounter in our own lives will be simple in comparison to the challenges faced by the Jackson family.  But there are some lessons: careful management of one’s affairs and good planning will lessen the load on named executors and estate trustees. 

Enjoy your Monday. 


24 Apr

Cottage Plans: An upside to the Economy?

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It’s Friday in late April. The May long weekend and all that cottage fuss is just around the corner.  (I like the cottage, but understandably a lot of people choose the backyard.)

In Ontario, we do not have inheritance tax like they do elsewhere, including the United Kingdom. In some cases, the several-generation home has to be sold to cover a £14,000 tax bill or, in one instance, a painting donated in lieu of inheritance tax of £700,000.

To be certain, we have taxes here. At death, often there is a deemed disposition of property unless steps have been taken in advance. An article from last year provides some thoughts on how one might plan to avoid the situation where the capital gains tax cripples an estate or the next generation.

Apparently, and maybe not surprisingly, the cottage market may be down by about 20% this season. Good news for buyers. Maybe it is also good news for those who are looking at estate planning this year. 

If the goal is to keep a cottage in the family, relative to the previous few years it might be an opportunity to trigger a disposition by transferring the property this season and, presumably, incurring a lower capital gain. Each situation requires specific tax advice. 

The economy is lousy but it might be a chance to avoid financial strain and family tension for the next generation.

Have a safe weekend, wherever you spend it.


23 Apr

Risk Management: Lenders Beware

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On Tuesday I blogged about mortgage fraud and suggested that financial institutions may be at greater risk because of the B.C. Court of Appeal decision: Re Oehlerking Estate, 2009 BCCA 138.

Why would they be at increased risk?

In the B.C. case, the Judge ordered that the fraudster’s title be set aside and that a new title be issued in the name of the plaintiff executrix. However, the Judge was satisfied that the financial institution had not “participated in the fraud” therefore the mortgage remained as a valid charge on title to the land. 

The B.C. Court of Appeal overturned that latter point when it declared that the mortgage is null and void as against the plaintiff and her title. 

The reasons were the same as those presented in a B.C. Court of Appeal decision released on the same day in Gill v. Bucholtz  (2009 BCCA 137). There is a thorough review of the Torrens land registry system and the development of B.C.’s Land Title Act.  Land title systems differ per province but the B.C. decision is likely persuasive.

In Gill v Bucholtz, the Court held that the B.C. Legislature adopted the policy that the cost of frauds perpetrated against mortgagees and other chargeholders should be borne not by the public (as the funders of the Assurance Fund but by lenders and other chargeholders themselves.”

Parties to real estate transactions rely on title searches. The case law shows that title searches have limitations, especially if a fraudster has used someone else’s identification to change the title document. It is up to lenders to now perform due diligence that may require that they delve deeper than the documents alone. Sometimes good old fashioned shoe leather might be put to work to check out the property in question; even a knock on the door to ensure that the owner is actually refinancing by way of a new mortgage. This extra work may come with a fee though. 

Thank you for reading. 


22 Apr

A Will Challenge under the Indian Act

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In keeping with yesterday’s blog on a British Columbia real estate matter, today I focus on another BC case – Albas v. Gabriel 2009 BCSC 198 – that involves the Indian Act, a federal statute. 

For a quick recap of the interplay between provincial and federal jurisdiction regarding estate matters and First Nations people living on reserves, I refer to David Smith’s 2007 blog: The Administration of Estates under the Indian Act. 

Albas v. Gabriel involved an action by the plaintiff, as executor of the estate, for a declaration proving the deceased’s Will in solemn form.  The defendant beneficiaries appealed to the Minister of Northern and Indian Affairs because the Minister has jurisdiction to approve a Will made by an Indian and to confirm the appointment of an executor to administer the estate. Specificially, the Minister’s authority is provided by section 43 of the Indian Act.

A member of an Indian Band and a resident of a reserve, the deceased operated a trailer park and he was a “locatee” of the land because he owned “certificates of possession”: valuable assets that he left equally to his daughter and two step-children. This was just one of the businesses with which the deceased was involved.

The daughter challenged both the validity of the Will and the administration of the estate. The judge determined that the daughter believed that if the Will was declared invalid, she would inherit the entire estate.

Because of the Will challenge, the Minister transferred jurisdiction over the estate to the Supreme Court of British Columbia pursuant to s. 44(1).

Ultimately, the Court found that the Will was valid because it was not forged and the testator had capacity as well as knowledge of the Will which he approved.

Enjoy your day.


30 Jan

Budget 2009: Tax Changes Affect Estates

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The 2009 federal Budget contains a few items relevant to Estates, particularly with respect to Registered Retirement Savings Plans (“RRSPs”). 

For a thorough review please see the 343-page document.  A Bloc Quebecois amendment to the Budget yesterday evening was defeated; Opposition Party amendments have yet to occur.  Budget speech to approval of the Budget motion could take up to four days.

While there are benefits for first-time home buyers in the Budget, and a host of infrastructure investments, not everyone is happy. Other media view the bad-time Budget as possibly providing the boost we need.

Regarding Estates, the Budget proposes that certain losses now be applied against terminal income – see page 318 of the Budget. The fair market value of investments held in an RRSP at the time of an RRSP annuitant’s death is generally included in the deceased’s income for the year of death. A subsequent increase in the value of the RRSP investments is generally included in the income of the RRSP beneficiaries upon distribution.

Similar rules apply in the case of Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs). 

There is, however, no existing income tax provision to recognize a decrease in the value of RRSP or RRIF investments that occurs after the annuitant’s death and before they are distributed to beneficiaries.

Budget 2009 proposes to allow, upon the final distribution of property from a deceased annuitant’s RRSP or RRIF, the amount of post-death decreases in value of the RRSP or RRIF to be carried back and deducted against the year-of-death RRSP/RRIF income inclusion. The amount that may be carried back will generally be calculated as the difference between the amount in respect of the RRSP or RRIF included in the income of the annuitant as a result of his or her death and the total of all amounts paid out of the RRSP or RRIF after the death of the annuitant.

Assuming the Budget motion passes, this measure will apply in respect of deceased annuitants’ RRSPs or RRIFs where the final distribution from the RRSP or RRIF occurs after 2008.

This change, especially in this uncertain economy, might help to make a weak financial situation a bit more palatable.

Thank you for reading our blogs this week.  Enjoy your weekend. 


29 Jan

Fit for the job?

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What does an executor do?

The first responsibility is to tend to funeral arrangements and then to gather up all the information relevant to the Estate. This information includes the ownership and value of assets, as well as the nature of all Estate liabilities. These responsibilities need to be taken seriously. 

Some other duties include: make provisions for dependants; notify various government agencies of the deceased’s death; collect income from assets; decide about investments; seek advice as required.  The executor’s role is similar to that of a trustee: both owe a duty to the beneficiaries. 

When one plans his or her Estate and prepares a Will, it is useful to consider the attributes of a successful executor.  Some questions might be:

  • Is the person organized?
  • Does the person have financial skills? 
  • What is the demeanour of the person who is being considered as an executor?

A recent British article asks more questions. One point, among many, is that “Honesty and conscientiousness are important, but if you are appointing more than one executor – and often that’s a good idea – they also need to be team players.” 

Each situation is different but the hard and soft skills of a potential executor are likely useful considerations.

Examples abound to illustrate what might go awry. Take the Estate of the renowned violinist, Isaac Stern. In 2004, the beneficiaries of the Estate were disappointed when the executor failed to include the value of the deceased’s  New York apartment in the calculation of the Estate’s value. This decision resulted in a shortfall of funds to meet the Estate’s liabilities. Legacy items, including musical instruments, were apparently sold at auction to the beneficiaries’ collective dismay.

Choose your executor(s) wisely.

Enjoy your Thursday.

Jonathan Morse


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